Friday, July 02, 2010

The Fourth of July

From the Lucas County Newsletter Volume 14 Issue 4 2009
 by Ev Brightman

Ev put this in the newsletter to show what type of short story could be entered in the Fair and hopes this will encourage participation.
A child of seven lay half asleep, being gently nudged by the cool south breeze of a clear July morning.  Suddenly, an awareness came, which bolted her into the day, "Good gracious, it is the FOURTH OF JULY!"

    In the early years of my childhood and many before that, the fourth of July was a hallmark of celebration in small town/rural America.  Chariton, Iowa was one of those small towns.  The entire extended family; aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and parents, would pile into my Dad's pick-up truck ready for a full day/evening trip to town.  In the late forties and early fifties, more than one trip a day the seven miles to town was unheard of; at least in our family.  Excitement ran high as everyone wanted to leave early to beat the heat and get a good spot on the court house lawn.  Everyone, that is except Aunt Esther, who always thought she had to get her dishes done at the last minute.

    In those days, prior to Dutch Elm Disease, Chariton was blanketed with huge Elm trees which shielded all beneath from the sun.  The lawn of the court house was covered by a patch work of quilts and blankets on the fourth.  Everyone wanted to select the perfect family spot.  Once the quilt was down, it became the family base of operation for the day.  All belongings, picnic basket, quart jars of tea and water (the ice was provided by snow cones in later years) were left under the watchful eye of at least one appointed family member at all times.  It was expected that family check in periodically.  As long as I can remember, the carnival, "Hale's Shows of Tomorrow" filled three sides of the square with rides and what seemed like hundreds of game booths providing arm loads of trinkets and chalk figurines. (I wish I had kept more of them).  Rides were from a quarter to fifty cents so you could make yourself as sick as you liked for a relatively small investment.  My birthday is the fifth of July.  As a small child I made the logical conclusion that the Merry-Go-Round came for my birthday.  The adults in the family loved to provide a few extra dollars to see me enjoy the day.

     Our phone was still a party line at that time which meant that you did not discuss things of importance or talk for any length of time.  You expected to catch up on the news with friends either on Saturday night, Church, or local celebrations.  People shared life under those Elms.  If you got hot, (of course you got hot, it was the fourth of July) you could join the water fight when the Chariton Fire Department brought out Old Betsy, the horse drawn pumper; or women could go to the ladies rest room/lounge in the basement of the court house.  Those two large rooms live in my memory.  There were chairs and lounges where ladies could rest or visit, a baby bed and a wonderful cool flowery oasis after a long hot trip to town.  One could go to the movie theater, the only building that was air conditioned, but that might mean missing something important going on outside like talent shows or the band concert.

    The cool of the evening brought street dancing and crowds of people, shoulder to shoulder, from surrounding towns.  My family loved to watch my cousins dance...they were proud.  The celebration culminated with fireworks at the East Park and the usual thunderstorm which inevitably followed.  This event was the mile marker for our family history.  Stories of the events were told and retold and embellished along the years:  My cousin's hair catching on fire from the fireworks while marching in the band, my Mother going into labor with me at the fireworks thinking she had eaten too many green peas, and the neighbor boy and yours truly getting lost in the crowd during a storm before being rescued from a house porch by the sheriff.  My first words from law enforcement, "Please stop crying!"

    Hale's Show of Tomorrow, the Elms and many family members are gone.  The memories, togetherness, family love and pride live on in each of us who had the good fortune to have been a part of that celebration in time. 

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